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Speeches - By EPA Administrator

 

Administrator Lisa P. Jackson, Remarks at the University of Kansas, As Prepared

03/12/2012
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As prepared for delivery.

I want to spend some time, before we have a conversation, talking about what has been – and continues to be – the defining mission of our time in office. That is of course the mission to strengthen the American economy – and of course I want to spend some time on how the EPA and environmental protection fits into that mission.

Since taking office, President Obama and all of my administration colleagues have been focused on the urgent need to continue creating jobs. After the collapse of the economy in 2008, there was nothing more important than making sure businesses could get up and running… making sure families had as much help as they could get… and making sure that critical industries like the auto industry could stay afloat – not only because we wanted to sustain jobs in Detroit, but because we wanted to sustain the companies all along the supply chain, that make their revenue sending materials and components to auto makers.

But President Obama has called for more than just an increase in jobs numbers when outlining an economic vision for the future of our country. In January at his State of the Union address, he put forward a blueprint for an economy that is built to last. That blueprint is founded on revitalized American manufacturing; a new era of American energy innovation and production; more affordable education and a fair shot for American workers; and a renewal of the American values that have made us both a land of opportunity and an economic superpower.

This is the central mission we have today. We must build and re-build a country and an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules. Unfortunately, there has been a move away from those fundamental values in the way our economy has worked. For years now, economic security for the average American family and members of the middle class has been eroding. Long before the recession, good jobs and manufacturing began leaving our shores. Hard work stopped paying off for too many Americans. Wages have stayed relatively flat while the costs of everything from housing to medicine to – as everyone here knows – education, have gone up. We have come to what President Obama called “a make or break moment for the middle class and those trying to reach it.” What is at stake is the basic American promise that if you work hard, you can do well enough to raise a family, own a home, and put a little away for retirement.

Since the day he took office, President Obama has been clear that we need to do more to create jobs and foster economic growth. Under his leadership and thanks to actions taken by this administration, the economy is growing again. The US has added a total of 3.9 million jobs over the last 24 months, American manufacturing is creating jobs for the first time since the late 1990s, and the American auto industry is coming back – while developing fuel efficient vehicles to save drivers money and cut pollution from our skies. We’ve also agreed to cut the deficit by more than $2 trillion. And the President signed into law new rules to hold Wall Street accountable.

This is a good start, and we have to ensure that we keep moving ahead. What we can’t do is go back to an economy based on outsourcing, bad debt, and phony financial profits. To get us back on the right track, we’re focusing on four pillars that define our economic vision.

The first is American Manufacturing. President Obama has laid out a number of proposals for how we bring about a new era of American manufacturing. To keep those jobs here, attract new manufacturing jobs, and make more products stamped ‘Made in the USA,’ we need our facilities to be more efficient, and give American companies incentives to keep those jobs on our shores.

The second pillar is American Energy. The president wants to move our nation into a new era for American energy, where our economy is powered by homegrown and alternative energy sources that will be designed and produced by American workers. Let me say that this is much more than just solar panels or increased use of cleaner natural gas – while those things are certainly important. One good example is our work with the auto industry to make vehicles more efficient. Last year the EPA took part in setting clear, national standards for fuel economy in American vehicles. That effort will cut our oil consumption by billions of barrels, allowing us to import less. It will also keep pollution out of our skies and save drivers more than a trillion dollars at the gas pump. The historic fuel economy standards this administration put in place will nearly double the efficiency of the vehicles we drive over the next decade. This step will save American families $1.7 trillion dollars at the pump, and cut oil consumption by 12 billion barrels.

Let me stay on this point for a moment, because this is one of the most important steps we can take to address the spike in gas prices that we are seeing right now and see every summer. High gas prices are painful for middle class families – and as a result they are painful for the entire economy. And the fact is, there are no silver bullets to bring prices down in the short term. Anyone promising they can do it is not telling the truth, and the president has said many times that this administration is not going to get into false debates and phony promises. The only way we’re really going to deal with this problem is through a sustained, serious, all-of-the-above approach to developing new domestic energy sources. That means safely expanding oil and gas production – but it also means reducing our overall reliance on oil through fuel efficiency and renewable energy. Along with our fuel economy standards, we have also called for a repeal of the $4 billion in tax payer-funded subsidies that are handed out to oil and gas companies each year.

The changes we’re making – in addition to saving drivers money – have also sparked innovation throughout the auto industry – from companies developing components to innovators making advanced batteries. In North Carolina an advanced battery company called Celgard recently hired 200 employees and is adding 250 more. They are one of many companies operating in the US that have dramatically increased our global market share for advanced batteries. Another example is the company Alcoa, which is investing $300 million in an aluminum rolling facility in Davenport, Iowa to meet anticipated demand for their aluminum from the auto industry. Their investment is going to create 150 new jobs. I saw yet another example in January at a company in Seattle called EnerG2. They are working on innovations in energy storage that will have applications in multiple industries. In February I visited a company called Mission Motors that builds power trains for hybrid and electric vehicles. They use green manufacturing techniques at their facility, and recently announced that they’re doubling their local workforce in California. These are just some of the companies creating new products and new opportunities – and they are examples of why the president made American Energy a pillar of our long term growth.

The third pillar is built on A Fair Shot for American Workers. The president offered new ideas for ensuring that our students and workers get the education and training they need. Some of the plans he outlined included connecting our colleges to the industries in need of new workers and helping small businesses get up and running. He also proposed extending support for students paying down their student loans, and urged Congress to reform an immigration system that allows immigrants to come to the US and get educated – and then tells them they can’t stay once they’re finished.

Finally – and most importantly – the president called for a return to American Values – values of fairness for all, and responsibility from all. It is critical to our economic success that everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same rules.

In all of this, the EPA has an important role to fill. Our mission day in and day out is to protect the health of the American people by keeping pollution out of the air we breathe, keeping toxins out of the water we drink, and keeping harmful chemicals out of the lands where we build our homes and our communities. In other words, the work that we do each and every day is focused on ensuring that our economy works for the American people.

It is consistent with American values to say that industry should not be allowed to dump untreated sewage into waters we drink or swim in or need for agriculture. It is consistent with those values to say that automobiles should meet standards that keep dangerous lead pollution out of our air, and that – as a rule EPA finalized last year says – power plants should have some limit placed on their emissions of mercury, a neurotoxin that affects children’s brain development. It’s consistent with those values to say that the food we put on our plates shouldn’t be coated with harmful chemicals that threaten our health and the health of our children. As President Obama has said, we “won’t back down from protecting our kids from mercury pollution, or making sure that our food is safe and our water is clean.”

Right now there are two ways we can go on these issues. There are two visions dominating the conversation today. One says that we can rely on science, the law and innovation to protect our health and the environment and grow a clean, sustainable economy. The alternative vision says that moving forward requires rolling back standards for clean air and clean water. It says we have to increase protection for big polluters while reducing safeguards for the rest of us.

You only have to turn on the news to hear the consistent drum beat against environmental protections, and that has very real consequences. Last year Republican leadership in the House of Representatives orchestrated a total of 191 votes against environmental protection. Much of that happened in response to myths and misleading information about EPA and its work. To give one example, there was an assertion made by lobbying and industry groups that the EPA was putting forward a “train wreck” of regulations that will hobble our economy. That claim was repeated in major news outlets and on the floor of Congress. In fact, one of the bills restricting clean air protections was named “The TRAIN Act.” The only problem is, there was no train wreck. The claim was founded on an American Legislative Executive Council report about regulations the EPA never actually proposed.

The fact is, we can’t create an economy that is built to last by putting our nation into a race to the bottom for the weakest health protections and the most loopholes in our environmental policies. For those of you born after 1970, it would be the first time in your lives that the health and environmental protections you grew up with are not steadily improved, but deliberately weakened. The result will be more asthma, more respiratory illness and more premature deaths. What there won’t be is any clear path to new jobs. No credible economist links our current economic crisis – or any economic crisis – to clean-air and clean-water standards. In fact, our experience indicates just the opposite: Americans have seen 200 percent growth in our GDP over the 41 years of EPA’s existence. After all that time and all that growth, it is clear that we can have a clean environment, better health and a growing economy – all at the same time. President Obama reaffirmed his commitment to that idea when he said in the State of the Union that “we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy.”

Now let me be clear – accomplishing both things at once requires diligence. President Obama has directed federal agencies to review regulations to eliminate unnecessary burdens for businesses and ensure that vital health protections remain intact. That is a good idea – but streamlining regulations is not the beginning and end of our plan. It’s not the only idea we have to face the broad range of economic challenges ahead of us. We need proactive measures to “insource” jobs that should be created here in America, aggressive steps to strengthen our manufacturing sector, new ideas to make sure our workers have a fair shot, and strong support for innovations that will move us to a new era for American Energy.

I’m proud to serve a President who has said that we can’t wait on these issues. I’m proud to serve a President who knows that EPA’s health protections are vital to the American people – and that the choice between our economy and our environment is a false choice. And I’m proud to serve in an administration that is committed to an economy that’s built to last. We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while more Americans barely get by. Or we can build a nation where everyone gets a fair shot. In this make or break moment for the middle class, we have great opportunities to serve the American people and strengthen our future. A strategy to grow our economy by simply doing less is not sufficient to the challenges we face. It is not how we meet the needs of the people we serve.

I’m here today because so much of what the president talked about, and so much of what is at stake will shape your future. And you have the power to influence the direction we go. That is especially true when we talk about the work that is happening here in the environmental studies program. Our economy and our environmental and health protection efforts are more intertwined than they have ever been before. Markets continue to grow in alternative energy development and innovative environmentally friendly products. Cities across the country and around the world are pouring billions in urban sustainability efforts. The most prominent example is the city of Rio, which is expecting up to $250 billion in sustainability investments in the next few years as they get ready to host the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. Those investments put people to work and clean the environment, and they also help people save money by cutting energy costs and reducing the stress on traditional infrastructure. And there are going to be opportunities in that field for people like you, who are leading the way in environmental studies. And in general, more and more sectors of our economy are focused on going green as a standard part of building a profitable business. The market is at work, and it’s building momentum for a truly green economy in the years ahead.

So all of you – the future sustainability engineers and water quality specialists and policy makers – have a very important role to play in the signature issues of our time. I can’t say enough about how important it is that you to lend your voices to the important discussions we will be having in this country in the months to come – starting with our discussion today.

Thank you very much.